Paro (alt. 2,280m / 7,478 ft)
valley of Paro encapsulates within itself a rich culture, scenic beauty
and hundreds of myths and legends. It is home to many of Bhutan's oldest
temples and monasteries, National Museum and country's only airport.
Mount. Chomolhari (7,314m) reigns in white glory at the northern end of
the valley and its glacial water plunge through deep gorges to form Pa
Chhu (Paro river). Paro is also one of the most fertile valley in the
Kingdom producing a bulk of the locally famous red rice from its
Places of interest in and around Paro
Built in 1646 by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal , the first
and temporal ruler of Bhutan, the Dzong houses the monastic body of
Paro, the office of the Dzongda (district administrative head) and
Thrimpon (judge) of Paro district. The approach to the Dzong is through
a traditional covered bridge called Nemi Zam. A walk through the bridge,
over a stone inlaid path, offers a good view of the architectural wonder
of the Dzong as well as life around it. It is also the venue of Paro
Tshechu, held once a year in the spring.>
Opening Hours: Monday – Sunday, 8 a.m. – 6 p.m. (summer), 8 a.m. – 4: 30 p.m. (winter)
One time watch tower built to defend Rinpung Dozng during inter-valley
wars of the 17th century, since 1967 Ta Dzong is serving as the National
Museum of the country. It holds fascinating collection of art, relics,
religious thangkha paintings and Bhutan's exquisite postage stamps. The
museum circular shape augments its varied collection displayed over
Opening Hours: Monday – Sunday, 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. (summer) & 9 a.m. – 4 p.m. (winter) Closed on National Holidays
This Dzong, with a delightful village nestling at its foot, was built
in 1646 by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal to commemorate his victory over the
Tibetan invaders. Historically and strategically this Dzong withstood
all its glory and was featured in 1914 vide National Geographic
magazine. The glory of Drukgyel Dzong remained even when its was
destroyed by fire in 1951. On a clear day, one can see the commanding
view of Mount. Chomolhari from the village, below the Dzong.
It is one of the oldest and most sacred shrines of the Kingdom dating
back to 7th century (the other is Jambey Lhakahng in Bumthang). The
lhakhang complex is composed of two temples. The first temple was built
by Tibetan King, Songtsen Gampo in the 7th century and in 1968, H.M.
Ashi Kesang, the Queen Mother of Bhutan, built the second temple in
Farm House (traditional village house)
The beauty of Paro valley is embellished by cluster of quaint farm
houses. Bhutanese farm houses are very colorful, decorative and
traditionally built without the use of single nail. All houses follow
the same architectural pattern. A visit to Farm House is very
interesting and offers a good glimpse into the lifestyle of a farmer.
Built in 1525, this town temple was formed by Ngawang Chhogyel, one of the prince-abbots of Ralung in Tibet and an ancestor of Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal. The temple is also known as Tshongdoe Naksang with its main statue of seated Jampa (seated Buddha) and local protector Gyenyen, surrounded by collection of ancient war artefacts.
To the west of the road is Dungtse Lhakhang, a chorten-like temple.
This unusual building was built in 1433 by the iron bridge builder
Thangtong Gyalpo. It has three floors representing hell, earth and
heaven and the paintings inside are said to be some of the best in
Beyond Dungtse Lhakhang, to the east of the road, the tiny Pana
Lhakhang is quite old and is believed to have been built in the seventh
Ugyen Pelri Palace
Ugyen Pelri Palace is in a secluded wooded compound on the south side
of the river just west of the Dzong. This Palace was built by the Paro
Penlop, Tsering Penjor, in the early 1900s. It is designed after Guru
Rinpoche's celestial paradise, Zangto Pelri, and is one of the most
beautiful examples of Bhutanese architecture.
Located behind Paro Dzong, this small temple is home to a magnificent
statue of Sakyamuni Buddha that was carried all the way from Lhasa and
also houses the protector deity of Paro. Legend has it that the statue
of Sakyamuni was destined for Paro Dzong and merely placed in the temple
for overnight safe keeping. However, when the time came to move the
statue, it proved impossible to lift. As a result, it became a permanent
feature of the lhakhang.
Taktshang Lhakhang (Tiger's Nest)
It is one of the most famous of Bhutan's monasteries,
on the side of a cliff 900m above the Paro valley floor. It is said that
Guru Rinpoche arrived here on the back of a tigress and meditated at
this monastery and hence it is called "Tiger's Nest". This
site has been recognized as a most sacred place and visited by Shabdrung
Ngawang Namgyal in 1646 and now visited by all Bhutanese at least once
in their lifetime. On 19 April, 1998, a fire severely damaged the main
structure of building but now this Bhutanese jewel has been restored to
its original splendour.
Opening Hours: Monday – Sunday, 8 a.m. – 1 p.m. & 2 p.m. – 6 p.m.
Namgay Artisanal Brewery
Located at Dumsibu, overlooking picturesque Paro airport and the lovely valley, Namgay Artisanal Brewery produces different types of beer; Red Rice Lager, Dark Ale, Wheat Beer, Indian Pale Ale, Milk Stout, Pilsner, Pineapple Gose and Apple Cider. While visit to the Brewery, one can learn the entire process of creating beers using local ingredients. Visitors can also get a taste of freshly brewed beer here while enjoying the serenity of Paro valley and the restaurant situation within the complex offers range of Continental, Bhutanese and Indian cuisine in a delightful atmosphere.
Sangchen Choekhor Buddhist Institute
High above the north bank of Paro Chhu river, Sangchen Choekhor Buddhist Institute commands fascinating view of Paro valley below. Located on the top of the hill north west of Paro town and about 12 km (7 miles) from city centre, Sangchen Choekhor is picturesquely situated. This beautifully located temple is home to community of about 100 monks who study here Buddhist philosophy. Sangchen Choekhor was originally built in 18th century but later rebuilt after damage due to massive fire. The original temple was built by the first speech reincarnation of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal. The lower altar room has a striking statue of Guru Rinpoche and unique 30-year old wall paintings created under the supervision of the Chief Abbot. The upper altar room is dedicated to the Zhabdrung lineage. While the monastery is of particular interest to Buddhist scholars however people also visit it to enjoy fascinating valley view below, with road access brining it within reach of travelers.
Located across the river on Paro – Thimphu road, this private temple is dedicated to 13th century saint Thangthong Gyalpo, a pioneering engineer who introduced the construction of suspension bridges into Bhutan and Tibet (several of which are still in use today). The present bridge to Tamchog Lhakhang was restored in 2005 in the design of a traditional style with iron chains and crossing this iron bridge is a wonderful experience.
Dasho Nishioka Memorial Museum
Dasho Keiji Nishioka, a horticulturist, came to Bhutan in 1964 as a Colombo Plan expert and contributed immensely towards cultivation of variety of vegetables in Paro. He also established small manufacturing unit in 1977 for production of quality farming tools which later developed in agricultural machinery centre and is also the location of museum now. His other achievements in Bhutan include the introduction of modern farm production methods, skill transfers and training, farm road and suspension bridge construction, better irrigation technologies, etc. For his contributions, His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo awarded him the title of Dasho in 1980.
Puna Lhakhang (also spelled as Pena Lhakhang) is small monastery and said to have been founded by Songtsen Gampo in 7th century, making it one of the oldest temples in Bhutan. Located en route to Ta Dzong (national museum), just past Dungtse Lhakhang on the east side of the road, its main inner sanctum has an ancient feel, dominated by statue of Jowo Nampar Namse that apparently has the power to fulfil wishes. The red-faced protector Pehar lurks in the corner, while to the left of the chapel is the stone footprint of former Zhabdrung.
Excursions around Paro Valley
Start the day early for drive to Haa via Chele-la pass. 4 Km away at
Bondey village the road to Haa diverts towards the right hand side and
ascends towards the chele-la pass starts. After driving through blue
pine & rhododendron forest for 45 km, reach Chele-la pass ( 4200
meters). From this point one can have a superb views of Mt. Chomolhari &
Jichu Drakey. This is a very good place to walk around for few minutes
enjoying the view. Drive on to Haa, descending all the way for another
22 km (under an hours drive), finally reaching Haa. The Haa Dzong is
presently occupied by military, but the view from outside is stunning.
After picnic lunch visit to the famous Monastery of Lhakhang Karpo
(White Temple) followed by visit to Lhakhang Nagpo (Black Temple).
The central shrine in Lhakhang Nagpo is said to have no difference with
that of Lhasa JOWO in Tibet. The construction of the Lakhang Karpo is
believed to have been assisted by the locality. As a result the place
came to be locally known as "Hay" meaning" surprise"
which later became "Haa" due to the differences in
interpretations and pronunciations of different people over time.
The three giant hills looming over the fringes of Haa valley were
called "Me Rig Puen Sum" especially after the incidence of the
Lhakhang Karpo construction. Today the three hills are popularly known
as "Rig Sum Goenpa" signifying three deities-Jambayang Chana
Dorji and Chenrizig.
Later, other Buddhist saints like Guru Rinpoche and "Machi Labdorn"
came to the Jungney Drag in Haa and blessed the locality. The principal
religion followed is Drukpa Kagyupa. After the arrival of Shabdrung
Ngawang Namgyel, the chief guardian deity of Haa became, Ap Chundu.
Later in the afternoon drive to Paro same way back. The drive will be
under 3 hours.
It is the serene home of Buddhist nuns who have dedicated their life for spiritual fulfilment and leading undisturbed life of religious studies, prayer and meditation. The goenpa is nestled in a craggy patch on mountain side below the Chelela pass and perched precariously along the rock face at an altitude of 3,500m. Built in 9th century, Kila Goenpa is reputedly the oldest nunnery of Bhutan and is an hour’s pleasant walk downhill from the Chele la pass amidst magnificent, wooded area.
Chele la (pass), at an elevation 3,988 meters is considered to be one
of the highest motorable passes in Bhutan. About an hour's drive along a
thickly-forested road, is this Pass-a botanical paradise. The pass
provides stunning views of the sacred mountain Jomolhari and Jichu
Drake. It is also marked by hundreds of prayer flags fluttering in the
wind. Here, visitors can see cascades of wild roses; purple and yellow
primulas; and swathes of deep blue iris covering the forest floor. The
top of the pass bloom with rhododendrons in a variety of colours-pale
pink, deep pink, burnt orange, mauve, white and scarlet.
Often called as mini Takstang, Dzongdrakha is a cliff-side temple complex on the western side of the Paro Valley, above Bondey village. Four shrines make up the complex, dedicated to Drolma (Tara), Tsheringma (Goddess of Longevity), Guru Rinpoche and the Buddha of the Future, Maitreya. Local oral tradition states that when Guru Rinpoche first visited Bhutan, he came from Nepal, first landing at Drakarpo monastery, and then at Dzongdrakha before arriving at Taktshang (Tiger's Nest) farther north up the valley.
Dzongdrakha also hosts an annual Tshechu (festival) that takes place the day before and the day after the larger Paro Tshechu held at Rinpung Dzong, in the main town. During the festival at Dzongdrakha, one of the main blessings takes place when the chorten (stupa) of the past Buddha is opened and the attendees are blessed by the relic held within.
The Dzongdrakha village is also known for most of their men being either fully ordained monks or gomchens (lay monks who don’t take vows of celibacy). In this village, the women are the one who work in the fields and are the bread earners of the family unlike in any other part of the country.
Located approx. 20-minute drive from Paro town followed by about 30-minute easy walk (one way), Dzongdrakha Goemba excursion is a good alternate for those who are unable to hike more strenuous Tiger Nest monastery.
Chumbu Lhakhang (Chumphug Lhakhang)
Chumphug is situated at about 3100m, on a steep mountain slope. It is one of the most sacred pilgrimage places in the Himalayas. With its towering cliffs and waterfalls, it revered as a Second Pemako, in reference to Padmasambhava’s "Hidden Land", situated along Tsangpo gorge in remote part of Aurunachal Pradesh.
Guru Padmasabhava is said to have mediated in Chumphug for about 3 months in 8th century. There are numerous caves associated with Guru. Many important Buddhist masters said to have followed the footsteps of Guru and mediated here. Among other, many Bhutanese teachers such as Terton Drukdra Dorji, Jey Shakya Rinchen, Jey Yonten Thaye, Jey Kuenga Gyeltsen said to have spent time here. The main relic in the temple is self-arisen image of Vajravarahi or Dorji Phagmo, a form of Varja Yogini, the highest female tutelary deity in Himalayan Buddhism. There are lots of unusual shaped rocks and imprint of Guru Rimpoche in the area. 12 young monks headed by one teacher and Lama is in residence here.
From Paro town, it is about 45minutes drive on the farm road, on side valley, following Dochu river, which flows into Pachu. From the road head, it is about 3 hours trek through dense oak, conifer and bamboo forests. First two hours hike is a gentle gradual ascend, crossing rivers few times and well maintained small wooden bridges. The final 45 minutes trek is a steep ascend to reach the main temple. Along the way, one can make de-tour, visiting caves and waterfalls.
Hike to Drangzhegoem monastery just above the Hotel Olathang takes about one hour walk from this hotel. The gradual climb passes through village houses and apple orchards. Travelers can return the same way back or continue walk further to Kyichu temple which takes about another two hours.
Choedin Village Loop
Set off towards the Sagala Pass, following the dirt road until reaching the charming and petite Choedin village. From here a trail moves upwards through dense pine forest until reaching the ruins of Choedin Lhakhang at the top of the hill. Take time to admire the perfect views of Paro Valley, revered Tiger’s Nest and the thousands of pine trees. From here the trail leads down to Tshento village just by Drukgyel Dzong. This loop can be completed in about three hours.
Perched on a mountain top, Jele Dzong is a small fortress built by Drukpa Kuenley’s brother Lam Ngawang Choegyal (1464-1540) when he arrived in Paro during 15th century. In ancient times, this Dzong was the important monastic center for the dual system of Governance in Bhutan. The impressive main temple here houses Buddha Shakyamuni statue in the center, Maitreya Buddha in the right, Buddha of the light statue in the left. To the right of Buddha is the standing Manjushri and to the left is two-armed Avalokiteshvara.
The 8 km walk (one way) to the Dzong takes about 3 hours with altitude gain from 2,300m to 3,450m through pristine forests and valleys traversed by yak herders with mesmerising view of Paro valley, Mt. Jumolhari (7,314m) and snow-capped mountains behind the valley
Perched majestically atop a green hill at 3,000 meter (9,800 ft) in the side-valley of Paro, Neyphug Monastery with its 450 year of Buddhist history holds high reverence among Buddhist communities all over the world. The monastery is also known by its another name Heyphug (named after the village where the monastery is located) was founded in 1550 by the first Neyphug Trulku, Terton (Treasure Revealer) Ngawang Dragpa (1525-1599). It is believed that Guru Padmasambhava personally set foot on this land during the 8th Century and tamed local evil spirits and left imprints of his hands and feet on the rock. He is also believed to have hidden several teachings, Samaya substances and other precious materials here in a small cave hence the place is called Neyphug “the sacred hermitage cave”.
Neyphug Monastery consists of several shrines, the main shrine has the life-size statue of Guru Padmasambhava and the golden statue of Buddha Vajrasattva. The monastery also houses the highly sacred Five Envoy-Statues of Guru Padmasambhava which is believed to have been erected to represent him before he left for his journey towards southwest. It is believed that whoever pays a visit to all five statues is equal to getting blessings from the Guru Padmasambhava himself. The monastery also has the shoes believed to have been worn by Guru Padmasambhava. Disciples and devotees are granted audience of this sacred monastery during the annual puja ceremony of the monastery which is observed in the second month of Bhutanese lunar calendar.
Neyphug Monastery also houses a charitable organisation that supports a monk community across the Kingdom of Bhutan. The funds raised by the monastery through various generous sources are used to meet day to day expenses of resident monks and maintenance of the monastery.
The Monastery is located approx. one-hour drive on a bumpy gravelled road from Paro town. The drive is scenic with several switchbacks that leads to the scenic mountain top which can be taken as a day trip while you are in Paro.
Situated on Zur (side) hill overlooking Paro valley, Zuri Dzong was built in 1352 as a fort and the five-storey main building is still well protected. There is a two-storeyed temple here housing some fine murals and paintings in the upper chapel, one of which is dedicated to Paro valley protector Zaa (Rahulla).
Starting from Ta Dzong (national museum), it’s about two hour leisurely hike to Zuri Dzong through cypress and pine trees amidst stunning view of Paro valley and magnificent Rinpung Dzong.Owing to its location on a pine forested hilltop, the top of the dzong is perfect spot for bird’s eye view of Paro valley while scenic trail and mesmerising views all along offer immense photo opportunity.
Difficulty Level: Moderate
Season: Jan – Dec
Maximum elevation: 2,600m
Elevation gain: 320m
Walking distance: 6 km (round trip)
Walking time: 3 hours (round trip)
Drakarpo monastery is considered very holy and sacred. The 8th century revered saint, Guru Padmasambhava accompanied by his consort Dakini Yeshey Tshogay and many other Yogis and great masters down the ages have blessed and sanctified this particular place. One must visit the main altar room in the monastery which has an interesting story that how Guru Rinpoche broke the rock and made a cave for his meditation in the mid-8th century. Here, one can see miraculous footprint of Guru Rinpoche in the cave while walking along the mountain on kora (circular journey), there are foot and hand prints and many other auspicious signs and symbols can be observed those are believed to have manifested by themselves through some supernatural forces. It is also believed that if one circumnutates the mountain 108 times he or she can get rid of all sins.
The monastery can be reached by 30-minutes’ drive to Shaba from Paro town, followed by two hours walk on a high cliff and round-trip walking excursion to the monastery is of approx. 3-hours.